Tuesday, December 19

If you go to New Orleans for the New Orleans Bowl, don't leave the French Quarter

Rice @ Troy - New Orleans Bowl, 12/22

How Rice Got Here
Talk about a rebounding doormat. After starting off the season 1-5 - with the only win being over perennial doormat Army - Rice was, well, looking like Rice. However, nobody told Rice they were actually Rice and they've won 6 straight since then, all against conference competition. It's tough to fault them for most of their losses, too; 3 of their losses were to BCS teams (including Florida State back when we thought they were still decent) and a fourth was to C-USA champ Houston. Plus they're Rice - you think they care that they're only 7-5? They're in a bowl!
Best Win: 41-38 @ Tulsa, 11/11
Worst Loss: 24-38 @ Tulane, 10/7

How Rice Operates
They're greater than the sum of their parts, that's for sure. They'll play close, but neither their D nor their O is much to call home about (they're about average across the board yard-wise). However, they're 3rd in C-USA in scoring average and lead the conference in turnover margin. Maybe sometime it's better to be lucky than good.

How Troy Got Here
Someone's gotta win the Sun Belt - why shouldn't it be the team that's turned into the Fresno State of the Sun Belt? Troy's made a name for themselves playing most everywhere at any given time, and this year was no different. Heck, they should've beaten Florida State early in the year - that being said, they didn't; they fell off the national radar after getting blown out by Nebraska 56-0. Since then, they've very quietly whipped up on the dregs of Division 1-A, going 6-1 in-conference and beating MTSU to win the Sun Belt conference title.
Best Win: 21-20 @ Middle Tennessee, 11/25
Worst Loss: 0-56 @ Nebraska, 9/23

How Troy Operates
Kind of like Rice, there's no one thing they do well. However, unlike Rice they're also above conference average in most categories (instead of defining the average like Rice does). In the Sun Belt, that's good enough for 6-1.

5 Things to Watch When Rice Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: Chase Clement vs. 60% completion percentage. Clement only has a 57.7% completion percentage on the season, and the Rice offense is basically a watered-down version of the Texas Tech offense (witness his 21-5 TD-INT ratio). He should have success against the Troy pass D (which is below average for the Sun Belt), but he also needs to hit his targets.
2: Quentin Smith. Smith is both a rushing and receiving threat - he's good for around 120 yards of non-return offense, and with any kind of gimmick massive-receiver offense it's critical to have a running back that can cause chaos catching the ball.
3: Clement's two-way ability. Clement doubles as Rice's second-leading rusher, and Troy hasn't seen someone as successful as a combo QB since - arguably - Reggie Ball. Of course, Clement is probably a better QB than Ball, too - certainly a better passer.
4: Jarett Dillard. Dillard has about as many receiving yards as everyone else on the Owls ... combined. He's one of the most explosive receivers in C-USA - and because he's such a critical part of the offense, Troy has to make sure he's shut down. Going back to the Troy-GT game, he's probably the Calvin Johnson comparable - but Troy shut down Johnson in the passing game.
5: Joel Armstrong. Armstrong is an interesting character; he's got some obvious talent and Rice will look to use him in any way they can. This includes as a receiver, a running back - and as a QB. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few Clement / Armstrong packages.

5 Things to Watch When Troy Has the Ball (or is punting)
1: Turnovers. Troy is -9 on the year and Rice is +10. Since both of these teams are tested-but-flawed, Troy should be able to rebound from losing the turnover battle if it's -1 in their favor, but if it's -2 or -3 .... I'm not so sure. FWIW, Rice is better at forcing fumbles than forcing picks.
2: Kenny Cattouse. He's Troy's primary rusher, and since the Rice rush D is horrid (114th in the nation), he should be primed for a 100+ yard game. Now if he can actually rush for over 100 yards, that'll be something.
3: Will Gary Banks actually pass? He's played in all 12 games for Troy (one of 6 players that's had a passing attempt), but only has 4 attempts. Chances are they'll use Banks for a drive or two to spell their primary QB - more on him in a sec - and just rely on Cattouse and Anthony Jones.
4: Omar Haugabook. Like Clement, he's a two-way threat. Unlike Clement, Haugabook isn't really effective running the ball (1.7 ypc). However, he should be able to get positive yardage against this rush D.
5: Gary Banks' other side. Think of Banks as a mix between Armstrong and Dillard and that's about his use. He doesn't have a lot of rushes - and we've already talked about his passing ability, or lack thereof - but Troy will at least use him as a diversion when he's not lined up at WR. When he is, he'll act like a possession receiver - albeit a possession receiver that scores.

What to Expect in the Game
You'll fall asleep. Honestly, my recommendation here is watch when Rice has the ball and go make dinner when Troy has the ball. Don't get me wrong - good on both teams to make it to a bowl game - but this game isn't exactly a shining beacon of great play. Clement should perform better than Haugabook and Rice should win.